Thursday, April 23, 2015

My Mountain Bike Race Debut: Illiniwek Abermination

photo courtesy of Eric Roccasecca
My first Mountain bike race is in the books, and all I can say is it was a blast! Since making the decision to do some Xterra Triathlons this year I thought it would be smart to try out some mountain bike racing this Spring to help me learn how to race in the dirt. So Erin and I traveled to the Illiniwek Forest Preserve this past weekend for the first of the Iowa Mountain Bike Championship Series races, the Illiniwek Abermination. The race was a lot fun and definitely learned a thing or two. A quick shout out to the Race Director, volunteers, and Race Officials that worked this race, it was very well run and I highly recommend it to all my fellow triathletes!

This being my first mountain bike race I made quite a few rookie mistakes. Some of the mistakes I knew better but made them anyways and other mistakes were a little bit of a surprise. I thought I’d document my top 5 mistakes so that those thinking about doing their first race can learn from my mistakes without replicating them. So here they are:

MISTAKE #1: Showing up too late.
My race start time was 10:45. In my world I thought I would show up an hour early, pickup my race number, and pre-ride a lap of the course as my warmup.  As I arrived they announced there was only another 10 minutes left for the sports division to pick up their race number. This let me know right away I had miscalculated my get ready time. I didn’t realize we would be sitting in the start corral for 20-25 minutes. This mistake would compound to cause several others.  ALWAYS ALLOW FOR MORE TIME THAN YOU THINK YOU’LL NEED.

MISTAKE #2: No pre-ride.
I had every intention to pre-ride the course as my warmup, but do to mistake number 1 very little warmup happened and definitely no pre-ride. Lesson learned, you definitely want to pre-ride the course, it makes things like passing, climbing, cornering, descending, and every other action you will be required to do while racing much easier! ALWAYS PRE-RIDE THE COURSE.

MISTAKE #3: Equipment check.
Again thanks to mistake number one I had less than ideal time to run through my bike that morning. I had cleaned it up the night before but forgot to torque spec all the important bike parts that night. One of the first hard corner we raced into I caught my tire hard causing my handle bars to turn but my wheel and fork didn’t and BAM! I was down for my first crash. I hopped back up and started pedaling right away only to find that my handle bars were out of alignment. I pulled over and got my handle bars squared away letting what seemed like another 50 riders by me before I could get going again. Later in the ride I realized as a result of the spill my saddle was pretty dang crooked too.  ALWAYS CHECK EQUIPMENT TO ENSURE ITS 100% BEFORE RIDING.

MISTAKE #4: Race start.
I decided to race the Sports Category, which is a category higher than the novice where most beginners start. I chose to do this because I have a limited number of races before my first Xterra and I wanted to the extra distance and exposure to more riders while racing that the sports category offered. I’ve been logging quite a few rides over the last month on my bike and was confident my handling was there but because this was my first race I chose to line up in the back of the group when we started. This wasn’t really a mistake, as a beginner this is where I should have started, but it does make the rest of the race a little more challenging. I was at the back of the pack and spent much of the race stuck behind riders looking for an opportunity to pass, on a 95% single track course that’s much harder to do than I thought. For future races I’ll be a little more aggressive at the start and try to secure a good position up front. HAVE A RACE START STRATEGY!

MISTAKE #5: Crashing!

So I wiped out about 5 times throughout the race (I apologize now for any racers I held up as a result!) Nothing serious but I believe I definitely lost more time with these slips than I made up pushing some sections of the course. Most of my wipes came as a result of my rear wheel sliding out on dried leaves. I have now learned that those harmless looking dry leaves in the corners are the enemy, stay away from fallen leaves! I also learned that biker versus tree always ends with the tree winning that fight (see picture for reference). AVOID CRASHING AND YOU’LL BE FASTER :)

I hope these lessons of a first time mountain biker help you as I’m sure they will help me in the future.  On the day I ended 17th out 55 riders in the Sports Category, results can be found here, while the place wasn't high the experience was awesome and much needed.

After the race Erin and I headed into Le Claire for some Mexican food with friends Justin and Jen who were at the race too. We all (except very pregnant Erin) enjoyed some Mexican beers and had fun sharing war stories. Big congrats to Justin for winning the whole damn Sports race!

 For those that have thought about racing a mountain bike but have been intimidated, just sign up for one and give it a go, you won't regret it and I guarantee you have some great stories to share!

Photo courtesy of Eric Roccasecca

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Race Season is coming fast!

I have rode my bike outside three days in a row, a great sign Spring is here, and with that the start of a new race season.  This season is going to be unlike any other and has me excited for just that reason.  For those that don't know Erin and I are expecting a little girl to arrive in a few weeks.  We are both thrilled to turn the page on a new chapter in our lives and DIVE into parenting. I knew all those years on the swim team diving blocks would pay off!  Since this is our first child and I really don't know what I'm getting myself into I've decided to approach this season much less structure than in the past.  Those that know me well know that I prefer a lot of structure in my training and spend a lot of time planning, training, and racing, so this will be quite a change for me!  I'm a big believer that change is good, it often challenges us and so I look forward to the challenge.

With less structure this year it's going to give me the opportunity to try some new things that I've been wanting to do.  I'm planning on jumping in on more local races, and actually racing more often and training a little less. Here are a few of the races and adventures I'm planning to date:

Triathlons:  Pigman Sprint and Quad Cities Triathlon are both local races that I've done in the past, I'm looking forward to kicking the Triathlon Season off with them.  The Dubuque Triathlon Club always has good attendance at these races which will make for a great time! I will add more triathlons as training falls into place this Summer and am hoping to fine a few good Olympic distance races to throw on the schedule.

Xterras:  Xterras are an off road triathlon that involves mountain biking and trail running.  I'm really looking forward to racing some dirt races this year! I've already signed up for Xterra Dairyland at the end of June and have about 3 or 4 others I'm eyeing as well.

Mountain Biking:  If I'm going to race Xterra I better improve my mountain biking skills. What better way to do that then race! I've added three mountain bike races from the Iowa Mountain Bike Championship Series which should be a great time.

Trail Running:  I just signed up for the Mines of Spain Trail Race, a great local race that's quickly becoming one of the best in the Midwest!

As far as Pro races are concerned, I'm back to the drawing board.  Initially I was planning on racing the Lifetime Fitness Series with races in Austin, Minneapolis, and Chicago.  Lifetime recently announced they were cutting the prize money and Pro races from their series.  Unfortunately this leaves very few Pro Short Course races in the country.  I might look at adding some Challenge or Ironman 70.3 races to the schedule late Summer and Fall so stay tuned for that announcement.

Had to throw this picture in. Dubuque Triathlon Club surprised Erin and
I with a baby shower, Pam Connolly had this awesome cake made!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Super Fly!

This past Fall I started adding mountain biking more and more to my cycling diet and decided it was time to put a new bike in my arsenal.  The learning curve for mountain bikes is steep with variables like bike weight, suspension, tire selection, wheel size, and gearing needing figured out. Thankfully I had Brian at my local bike shop "Free Flight" to lean on for help.  So after lots of research I pulled the trigger on a Trek Super Fly 9.8 SL.  By the time I decided to buy the bike I only got about 3 rides in before the snow came.  Needless to say I've been itching to get back outside and break the bike in properly!  I figured while waiting for the temperatures to rise and snow to disappear I'd write an "initial impressions" blog.

Post ride pic

The Build, The Super Fly came stock with the following:
Frameset:  OCLV Mountain Carbon, removable Carbon Armor, E2 fully integrated tapered head tube, BB95, internal control routing, Micro Truss, balanced post mount, Closed Convert dropouts, G2 Geometry
Front suspension:  Fox Performance Series 32 Float, CTD (climb-trail-descend) remote-ready FIT damper, rebound, E2 tapered steerer, 15QR thru axle, custom G2 Geometry w/51mm offset, 100mm travel
Wheels:  DT Swiss X1700 w/tubeless tape & valves, 142x12 rear, 15mm front
  - Shifters - SRAM X1, 11 speed
  - Rear derailleur - SRAM X01 Carbon, Type 2
  - Crank - SRAM X1 1400 X-Sync, 32T
  - Cassette - SRAM XG-1180 10-42, 11 speed
  - Chain - SRAM PC-1130
  - Saddle - Bontrager Evoke RXL, hollow Ti rails
  - Seatpost - Bontrager Carbon, 2-bolt head, 27.2mm, 8mm offset
  - Handlebar - Bontrager Race X Lite Carbon Low Riser, 31.8mm, 5mm rise
  - Stem - Bontrager Race X Lite, 31.8mm, 7 degree
  - Headset - FSA IS-2, E2, alloy cartridge
  - Brakeset - Shimano Deore XT hydraulic disc
Must have features:  Knowing that I'd end up wanting to race this thing I had a few features I was specifically looking for:
  1. Light Weight:  I didn't want weight holding me back on climbs.
  2. Full Suspension:  I plan on racing a few Xterras, I wanted one bike that could do it all from a suspension aspect and I also thought that full suspension would be a little more forgiving on the body allowing me to run faster off the bike.
  3. Tubeless:  I wanted to have the ability to run low tire pressure without worrying about a pinch flat so a tubeless setup was important to me. 
On first impression the 3 features above were all a great call.  I ride at FDR park in Dubuque which can be pretty technical.  I love the full suspension for descending.  The 29 inch wheels lets me roll over anything and the full suspension allows me to not feel the effects of rolling over everything!  The weight was a big change.  My previous Mountain bike weighed over 30 pounds, this bike came in at 23lbs.  It feels a ton more responsive on climbs and I feel like the weight reduction gives me another gear for climbing.  The tubeless tires just give me more options for the terrain I'm riding on any given day.  When I'm in loose sand or muck and can drop the tire pressure and get more traction, the additional grip makes a big difference in turns and the speed I can carry through those turns.
There are a couple other neat features included on this bike that I didn't necessarily know if I wanted but I can tell already are really nice to have.
  1. 1 x11:  The Super Fly came with 1 x11 meaning there is 1 chain ring up front and the cassette has a 11 cogs on it. I wasn't sure if this was a good thing or not.  Initially I'm loving it!  First it makes the bike lighter, with one less shifter, derailleur, and chain ring.  But it also simplifies shifting, which for me just makes the riding that much more enjoyable. 
  2. Remote Lockout: If you are on varying terrain that goes up and down often this is a really nice feature.  It allows you to lock out the front, rear, or both suspensions with just a push of a button on the handle bars. I'm not having to search for my front or rear shock lockout while worrying about handling the bike and the trail ahead.
SO, needless to say I'm excited to get out there for another ride!!! I've been searching for local mountain bike races and Xterras and once I get a few more miles and a race under my belt I'll post and update.  Feel free to post comments or ask questions.
Happy Training!